“And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever.”[Exodus 12:17]
Passover is merely the initial 24-hour period for what traditionally is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Beginning on the day after Passover (Nisan 15) and continuing for the next seven days to Nisan 22, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was established by the LORD as a holy convocation for the children of Israel. Year after year, the Israelites were to reenact the Exodus story by removing all the leaven from their homes and only partaking of unleavened bread for the duration the feast.
So serious was this commandment that the LORD warned, “If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land” [Exodus 12:19]. One may wonder why the LORD would place such an emphasis on purging the yeast from each home. What’s so bad about yeast? Although certain grain offerings were also to be presented to the priests without yeast (Leviticus 2:11, 7:12), there was no other prohibition in Israel about eating leavened bread.
On the surface there was at least one practical reason the LORD commanded the Hebrews to prepare unleavened bread for the Exodus — preservation. At the very moment the destroying angel killed every firstborn in Egypt, the Israelites had to be ready to make haste and leave immediately. They would be bringing whatever possessions they could carry from Egypt and taking an arduous journey through the wilderness for an indefinite amount of time.
Naturally, it only made sense to prepare food for the journey that would not sour or ruin but that would keep for days to come. Something like the equivalent of the dehydrated meals designed for survival in extreme conditions.
We’ve all likely experienced the effects of yeast first hand.
I can remember as a child that my favorite after school snack was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a cold glass of milk. Nothing was worse than having my mind set on a good ole PB&J only to discover the loaf of bread had soured and was covered in mold. My only option at that point was to look for the next best thing — crackers.
And the one thing I could count on is that if there were any saltines in the house — no matter how old and stale — they at least would be edible.
Why? … Obviously, No yeast.
Yeast is a fungus that binds with the sugars in bread causing it to rise, and while it’s hard to beat fresh-baked bread hot out of the oven, we all know that it won’t keep long because the yeast accelerates the fermentation process and causes the bread to spoil much faster.
Practically, the Israelites needed sustainable food for their journey that would keep during the days and weeks ahead without spoiling. Bread would be essential to keep them alive in a harsh environment, and only unleavened bread could be preserved long enough to meet their most basic need — daily bread.
Yet with nearly everything God does for us and communicates to us, He does so on multiple levels and with a variety of applications — not just physically or practically — but spiritually as well. By using unleavened bread, the LORD was providing an important object lesson for His people, a symbolic picture of something much deeper and much more spiritually significant.
Jesus and His Teachings on Leaven
Yeshua of Nazareth in fulfilling all righteousness as the Messiah of Israel would have faithfully observed the appointed feast of Unleavened Bread His entire life. We know that on the night that Yeshua was betrayed, He observed the Passover with His disciples, and as the Lord led His disciples in the first holy communion of the New Covenant, He brought new significance to the Passover meal. Jesus would have taken the unleavened bread at the table, pronounced a blessing over it, and broke it before giving it to His disciples.
Jesus also regularly used the concept of leaven to teach His disciples about the dangers of sin. By doing this, Jesus was expanding on the symbolic meaning of leaven and contrasting His own character and ministry with that of other religious groups of His day.
“How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.[Matthew 16:11-12]
Jesus began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”[Luke 12:1]
Jesus clearly associates leaven with the dangerous sins of false teaching and self-righteous hypocrisy. The Apostle Paul also uses the same wordplay when speaking of the dangers of allowing a little leaven (sin) into our lives, which will eventually infect and ruin the whole lump — either as individuals or as a corporate church body [see 1 Corinthians 5].
Leaven, therefore, is a word picture and symbolic representation of sin, hypocrisy, corruption, ruin, and spiritual impurity. This will be critical in understanding the significance of how the Lord Jesus has perfectly fulfilled the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Until next time, I have provided a link which describes how the Jewish community observes the Feast of Unleavened Bread to this day with matzah and other symbolic gestures that point directly to Yeshua the Messiah.
You can discover more here.